Map of area burned in the downtown Belize City Fire of 1863
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Wednesday September 19, 2018

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Map of area burned in the downtown Belize City Fire of 1863

In Belize's history, the two types of events that have caused the most destruction have been attributed to fires and hurricanes. Some of the major fires in Old Belize Town has been in 1802,1806, 1819, 1839 and 1854. However, the granddaddy of them all was the fire of 1863.

The fire of 1863 has been the largest fire in the history of Belize City to date. The exact location of the fire was easy to locate because it practically burnt 70% of the Southside of Old Belize Town. We got a good understanding of the scope of the fire based on a hand drawn sketch made by Mr. Thomas Clark after the fire. His sketch revealed that the fire travelled all the way to Bagdad Street to the North, between Albert and Regent to the East, and around Berkley Street to the South. What we can't see on his sketch is how far west it travelled levelling everything in its path. History tells us that the fire burnt 90 acres, so taking this information and utilizing modern technology (Google Area Calculator), we are able to estimate the extent of the fire (see red area on uploaded map).

Based on the three coordinates and Google Area Calculator, the fire would have gone as far West as the Novelos Bus Terminal. The fire destroyed some 500 houses and made 2000 people homeless. It started at 2 a.m. and was not gotten under control until 10:00 a.m.

The fire occurred during the month of March and it was very dry that year and a strong wind was blowing from the northeast. The fire may have started in the Albert Street area and spread West driven relentlessly by the strong dry winds. At one point during the fire, the fire had reached the street in front of the Court House. Apparently, there was a three storey house there at that time. The Court House was next on the list for the raging fire and the only way to stop the encroaching fire was to blow up the burning building in front of the Court House. A decision was made by Lieutenant Governor Seymour to blow up the building. A 100 lbs barrel of gun powder was retrieved from the HMS Jason and thrown into the burning building. On-lookers described that when the barrel exploded the three-storey house raised some 20 feet off the ground and fell in a heap of burning ruins and the Court House was saved. Other detonations were made throughout the town and so the fire was kept from expanding to Regent Street where the all the rich merchants and the public officers lived.

Only two people perished in this fire. After the fire, the whole system of streets were redrawn and made wider. A large square in the Over-pond (possibly around East Canal area) was designated as a place of safety and a clear road on either side of the canal was created

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